Juliette Burton: Decisions, decisions
By Caro Moses | Published on Wednesday 17 August 2016
Juliette Burton has been wowing the Fringe for some time now with her excellent comedy shows, which often tackle kind-of-serious subjects but with an extremely light touch.
This year she decided to write a show about decisions, and the tricky task of making them. It’s yet another really interesting sounding show, which made us decide it was about time we put some questions to Juliette to find out more.
CM: Your shows always have a very strong theme. What’s this year’s show about?
JB: Well, firstly, thanks for the compliment! This interview is already one of my favourites! I’m a sucker for a kind word. This year’s show is about whether one choice can change a life. It’s called ‘Decision Time’ because I have a really big decision to make… hence the terribly imaginative title!
CM: What made you decide to focus on this as a jumping off point?
JB: I decided to focus on this because I’m terrible at making even small decisions. Even deciding what to wear in the morning gets me stressed! Therefore the big decision at the heart of the show was totally freaking me out! So I thought the most sensible way to deal with it was to write a comedy show all about it. Obviously. Writing and performing is one of the few decisions that feels instinctive to me, weirdly. I am a bit weird.
CM: How easy was it to stick to the decision to write a show about decisions?
JB: Sticking to the central theme of decisions was easy, but hard too! I overwrote the show massively, with way too much research involved originally. During very early work-in-progress versions I quickly realised the funniest bits were the real life anecdotes – the bits that answer the question “can looking back help us move forward?”
CM: For people who haven’t seen you perform before, what sort of format should we expect from the show?
JB: It’s a one-woman show, and I use multimedia video and animation projection. At the top of the show there is a little video of interviews with other comedians talking about how they make decisions – and the easiest and hardest decisions they’ve ever made – to make it a universal question. Then it’s me taking you through the show. It’s all totally truthful, everything is honest. A recent review said it is “soul-baring and very funny”. It’s very relaxed too – we’re all just a big group of brand new friends in the room. And it’s very safe; no one gets picked on and no one is dragged up on stage! It’s not that kind of show and I’m not that kind of girl!
CM: And are there serious points to be made in ‘Decision Time’?
JB: Absolutely! I was recently told “a joke is the truth wrapped in a lie”, which is certainly the case in this show. Serious points are easier to hear if you’re laughing. So maybe there’s some stuff in there about mental health – I have researched the show with ReThink and Mind, the mental health charities, so it would be bizarre not to talk about that stuff – but also bits about trusting our instincts and not worrying about “what ifs” so much. However, I wanted to ensure it wasn’t too TED! It’s a comedy show, people laugh; if they think and feel as well, that’s great, but all I really want is for them to laugh.
CM: What would you say is the biggest decision you have ever made?
JB: I made The Ultimate Decision back in July 2014… which is the one I talk about in the show. I don’t want to give away spoilers, so maybe come along to find out what that is. Though the glorious thing about decisions is that you can always change your mind.
CM: Did you ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child? If so, was it a bit of a nightmare for you, having to make all those choices?
JB: I did read those books! And yes, I kept wanting to read ALL the possible endings – a compulsion to find the “right” and “wrong” answers! But I’ve realised, there is no such thing as a “wrong decision”. All decisions lead us to have new experiences; that’s life. As part of my research for this show I actually bought loads of those books online. My Amazon recommendations have gone very specific now. And one of those books features in a film that’s playing as the audience walk in – see if you can spot it when you come! Those books also inspired the way I introduce myself and get the audience up to speed with the decisions that have led me to make the decision to get on stage this year at the Fringe!
CM: You mentioned your research. Your press release calls that “highly scientific” research. Is that actually true?
JB: Well it was highly scientific to me, a comedian who doesn’t usually work in science. To find the best way to make decisions I spent a whole week not making any decisions for myself; a day making decisions by tossing a coin, a day using pros and cons lists, a day just saying yes, a day just saying no, a day where social media told me what to do and a day where I asked my mum to make all my decisions, another day when I asked my dad and another day when I asked my sister. Sadly though, all those days have been cut from the Fringe version of the show! It will be in the longer touring version though. So see the show in Edinburgh to see what it is now and see it on tour to see the added extras! Though I did find out what would have happened if I’d said yes to an ex-boyfriend’s proposal back when I was 16… and that has stayed in the show!
CM: Have you learned anything really tangible from creating this show? Do you have any advice for those of us who are decisionally-challenged (unable to make them, stick by them, or only able to make bad ones)?
JB: I learned a lot not just from creating the show but by performing it too; I’ve realised I need to trust my instincts more, not to look back, to let go of “what ifs”, there are no right or wrong decisions – only experiences. I’ve also learned that a lot of people struggle with decision making – especially at the Edinburgh Fringe! So we’re not alone!
CM: What influences and inspires you in your work?
JB: Other people. I love chatting to people – either in my research for shows or when flyering people at the Fringe, or after my shows meeting people to whom the show meant something very real. More specifically; Jim Henson, Daniel Kitson, Fringe comedians. Being here in August is such a great way to become inspired.
CM: Right, let’s go back to the start for a minute. What made you decide to become a performer? How did you get started?
JB: Performing and writing felt instinctive when very few things did. I had wanted to write and perform since I was a child, but was encouraged down a “proper job” pathway instead. I became very ill when I was a teenager and went in and out of hospital a lot, and as a result fell out of education. When I began to find recovery, I realised I needed my life on my terms otherwise I didn’t want to live it. I wanted a life worth living for – writing and performing is it for me. It makes me feel alive.
I used to be a journalist, but when the recession hit I couldn’t find any work so I started acting, then found out comedy was where I felt most at home. Coming to the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2005 as a reviewer I fell in love – with the Fringe and the city – and quickly realised I envied the people on stage too much. I once read that envy can be a good thing to feel – it can motivate you to identify and go for the things you want. So I went for it!
CM: You mentioned the acting. You’ve also done presenting and radio, as well as the comedy. Which do you like best?
JB: Oh that is a very tough question! I love all of them – and I love having such a variety of things to do. I record voiceovers a lot, which is fun because I don’t have to worry about brushing my hair. I love acting because I like being told what to do. I love writing because it’s a way of having a voice and reaching people on a personal level. Presenting is something that feels very natural to me – TV presenting is something that combines all aspects of my career: journalism, writing, performing and most of all talking to people.
CM: You used to live in Scotland, didn’t you? Do you miss it?
JB: I did. And I do. I miss it very much. I had to move because work called me down south. I’d love to return; I joke that if I make my millions I’d happily live here! I used to live in Edinburgh itself so returning every year for the Fringe is wonderful if a little heart wrenching when it’s time to leave. But it will always be here; Edinburgh and my love for it has remained constant now for over a decade. It’s a lifelong love affair for me.
CM: Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
JB: Oh lord! That question always makes me think of job interviews! Or those really awful dates! I tend to live one day at a time, sometimes I need to break it down to just getting to the next hour. Thinking ten years in advance feels like I might be wishing my life away. I definitely see myself still returning to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe though.
CM: OK, something simpler! Where do you see yourself after the Fringe?
JB: Some days that feels like ten years away! I can’t believe we’re still only half way! I’d love to see myself lying down somewhere quiet with an eye mask on, soothing music and no flyering!
Juliette performed ‘Decision Time’ at Gilded Balloon at Edinburgh Festival 2016.
photo: David P Scott